Day and night airborne thermal infrared image data at 5 m spatial resolution acquired with the 15-channel (0.45 micron - 12.2 micron) Advanced Thermal and Land Applications Sensor (ATLAS) over Alabama, Huntsville on 7 September, 1994 were used to study changes in the thermal signatures of urban land cover types between day and night. Thermal channel number 13 (9.6 micron - 10.2 micron) data with the best noise-equivalent temperature change (NEAT) of 0.25 C after atmospheric corrections and temperature calibration were selected for use in this analysis. This research also examined the relation between land cover irradiance and vegetation amount, using the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI), obtained by ratioing the difference and the sum of the red (channel number 3: 0.60-0.63 micron) and reflected infrared (channel number 6: 0.76-0.90 micron) ATLAS data. Based on the mean radiance values, standard deviations, and NDVI extracted from 351 pairs of polygons of day and night channel number 13 images for the city of Huntsville, a spatial model of warming and cooling characteristics of commercial, residential, agricultural, vegetation, and water features was developed using a GIS approach. There is a strong negative correlation between NDVI and irradiance of residential, agricultural, and vacant/transitional land cover types, indicating that the irradiance of a land cover type is greatly influenced by the amount of vegetation present. The predominance of forests, agricultural, and residential uses associated with varying degrees of tree cover showed great contrasts with commercial and services land cover types in the center of the city, and favors the development of urban heat islands. The high-resolution thermal infrared images match the complexity of the urban environment, and are capable of characterizing accurately the urban land cover types for the spatial modeling of the urban heat island effect using a GIS approach.